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I Want My DVD: Tuesday, October 4, 2011

by Ethan Alter October 4, 2011 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yet another entry in the ongoing tale of two sweaty dudes pursuing their true passion in life: driving cars really, really fast.

Fast Five
Ten years and five movies in, it appears that audiences can't get enough of The Fast and the Furious franchise, provided, of course, that both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are behind the wheel. The latest installment, Fast Five, set a series record at the box office earlier this year, cruising past the $200 million mark, making it one of the highest-grossing "Part 5's" of all time. Credit for the movie's success has to go in part to director Justin Lin's decision to turn it into an Ocean's Eleven-style heist picture that brought back characters from each of the previous movies (including Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris from 2 Fast 2 Furious and Sung Kang from Tokyo Drift) and pitted them against a new heavy, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Despite a needlessly protracted 130-minute runtime, Fast Five does deliver in the action sequences, most notably the final car chase, which finds Walker and Diesel speeding through downtown Rio dragging a giant steel bank vault behind them. That sight alone is worth the cost of a rental.
Extras: A commentary track with Lin, who has gone from directing the franchise's least successful installment (Tokyo Drift) to helming its biggest hit; deleted scenes, a gag reel and three featurettes devoted to Diesel, Walker and Johnson's characters respectively. The Blu-ray version features exclusive additional featurettes, including a behind-the-scenes peek at that crazy vault chase.

The Lion King
Never underestimate the appeal of an animated favorite, even one that's 17 years old. During its recent theatrical release in a new 3D version, Disney's 1994 smash The Lion King dominated the box-office charts for two weeks straight, out-grossing such new offerings as Moneyball and Abduction. The DVD is guaranteed to sell like gangbusters as well, particularly thanks to the studio's whole "released from the Disney vault for a limited time" gimmick. If you're already a fan of The Lion King (and based on the grosses, that's just about everyone in America), you'll be blown away by the Blu-ray edition's beautiful high-def transfer. The opening "Circle of Life" sequence has never looked better and the crisp images make even "Hakuna Matata" bearable. For a look at real-life lion kings, check out African Cats, the latest nature documentary from Disneynature, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and chronicling the adventures of a lion family and a cheetah family trying to survive on the Kenyan savannah.
Extras: The Lion King is being released in a whopping four different editions -- a 2-disc Blu-ray combo pack, a 4-disc Blu-ray combo pack (with the 3D version of the film) and an 8-disc Blu-ray set that also includes the two direct-to-DVD sequels. (A standard-only DVD edition will be on sale in November.) Extras on all three packs include deleted scenes, a blooper reel, a bonus song and a look back at the movie's difficult production. African Cats comes with two conservation-themed featurettes and a music video for the Jordin Sparks song, "The World I Knew."

Pulp Fiction
Jackie Brown
Another classic from '94 hits Blu-ray this week, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, arguably the best sophomore directorial effort ever made and easily one of the most influential movies of the past two decades. From the opening conversation between Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, to Vincent Vega and Mrs. Mia Wallace's night out at Jack Rabbit Slim's to Captain Koons' monologue about Butch's father's gold watch to the whole "Bonnie situation," Pulp Fiction remains an endlessly inventive (and endlessly quotable) comedy/drama/action movie/answer to the meaning of life. But you know what? I think I like Tarantino's follow-up, Jackie Brown even more. Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, the movie features his best ensemble (Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Sam Jackson, Michael Keaton... the list goes on and on) and carries an emotional weight that the director's earlier movies -- for all their brilliance -- kind of lack. More than Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction or any of the movies Tarantino has made since (including the overpraised Inglourious Basterds), Jackie Brown is the title I find myself wanting to revisit the most often. As Tarantino himself puts it in one of the featurettes on the disc, it's the ultimate "hang-out" movie, where you just want to spend time hanging out with those characters. Couldn't agree more.
Extras: While most of the bonus features -- including deleted scenes, trailers, interviews and vintage Siskel & Ebert reviews -- on both discs have been ported over from earlier special editions, there are a handful of new extras that fans of these movies will want to check out. Jackie and Pulp each offer a critic's retrospective starring various prominent film writers and the latter disc also has new interviews with the cast, including Travolta, Jackson and Roth.

Space Jam
When the history of Hollywood in the '90s is written, an entire chapter will have to be set aside for Space Jam, one of the strangest high-concept, would-be blockbusters that ever made it through the studio pipeline. Start with the bizarre notion of casting basketball player Michael Jordan to appear opposite Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney Tunes crew. Next, move on to the remarkably daft plot, in which an alien businessman sends his minions to kidnap the cartoon characters for his theme park, which causes Bugs to challenge him to a basketball game in order to win their freedom because... why not? Bugs then recruits the retired Jordan to teach them the necessary B-ball skills, while their opponents steal moves from Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing. The whole enterprise climaxes with a ridiculous basketball game, during which Bill Murray keeps popping up for some reason. All of this may sound more like a hallucination someone might have after consuming too much pizza and beer and falling asleep in front of the NBA Finals, but I can assure you, this movie is real and actually played in theaters in 1996, where it grossed some $90 million. (If you really want to experience time travel, check out the movie's original website, which is still up and running in all its GeoCities like-glory.) Someone needs to bury this Blu-ray version of the film in a time capsule so that, hundreds of years from now, our descendants can stumble upon Space Jam and marvel at how primitive and downright weird their ancestors were.
Extras: Pretty much all the same things that were on the standard DVD special edition that was released a few years ago - featurettes, a commentary track (with appearances by Bugs and Daffy) and trailers.

Also on DVD:
With '90s nostalgia all the rage right now, The Weinstein Company bet big that audiences would turn out in droves for another installment in the franchise that launched the current horror boom, Scream. But Scream 4 did only modest business during its theatrical release last spring, which means DVD sales will determine whether Ghostface returns to finish Neve Campbell off once and for all. If you only know Peter Jackson as the Oscar-winning director of The Lord of the Rings movies, you may not be prepared to for the gruesome silliness of his early filmography, including Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and, best of all, Dead Alive, which arrives on Blu-ray today. Known as Braindead in every country outside of North America, this hilarious (and extremely gory) horror movie follows a young man who has to kill his own mother after she's bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and transformed into a flesh-consuming zombie. Dead Alive also contains what may be the single best line Jackson has ever written: "I kick ass for the Lord!" Two respected (and award winning) foreign films make their high-def debut, Roberto Benigni's controversial Holocaust comedy Life is Beautiful and Giuseppe Tornatore's heartfelt ode to the magic of movies, Cinema Paradiso. John Irving's novels generally don't translate well to the screen, but The Cider House Rules turned out fairly well and gave Michael Caine his second Oscar. (He was actually at the ceremony to accept it that time, instead of on location shooting another awful Jaws sequel.) And finally, Cameron Crowe's beloved Almost Famous at last gets a Blu-ray release in its director-preferred Bootleg Cut version. See it and then try to stage your own "Tiny Dancer" moment on your morning commute.

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